BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Area residents came together Wednesday night to welcome Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite, Bethune-Cookman University’s seventh president.
The event, held at the Midtown Cultural & Educational Center in Daytona Beach, was well-attended.
The City of Daytona Beach hosted the event, which was also sponsored by the Volusia County/Daytona Beach NAACP, Midtown Community Development Corporation, and the Beta Delta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
“It’s a tremendous honor. I am overwhelmed. My wife and I are touched. Amongst other things, I think this shows how instrumental this institution is to the community and how integral B-CU is to Volusia County and Daytona. I appreciate everyone come out here to support and welcome us,” Chrite told those in attendance.
Percy Williamson, who has ties to both the City of Daytona Beach and Bethune-Cookman University, gave a brief presentation on the economic impact that B-CU has on Daytona Beach.
Williamson grew up in the city and is a graduate and former basketball player at the school. He is also the former Leisure Services director for the city.
A United Negro College Fund (UNCF) 2015 study conducted with the University of Georgia’s Business School put that impact at $136 million annually while a University of Central Florida 2002 study put that impact at $251 million.
“B-CU is important to the city – that is why we are here. We want to recognize their impact on our city. If B-CU closes, it leaves a hole in the heart of Daytona Beach,’’ Williamson told the Daytona Times.
“We also want Dr. Chrite to feel welcome and know that the community has the school’s back. They haven’t asked for anything financially yet but maybe there is something that could be done to help.”
The event included greetings from Daytona Commissioner Paula Reed, remarks from Chrite, and a presentation to Chrite from Mayor Derrick Henry. Other elected officials in attendance included Volusia County Councilwomen Barbara Girtman and Heather Post along with Daytona Commissioners Dannette Henry, Quanita May and Ruth Trager.
Chrite also gave an update on the school’s status.
“I am happy to be here. We have made enormous progress over the past four months. We have a lot of work still left to do,” noted Chrite.
Bethune-Cookman has been in danger of having its doors close due to being on academic probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), having junk bond status, a bad credit rating, lawsuits, and a bad dormitory deal.
The university has taken steps to improve its situation.
Chrite told the Times, “We have improved cash flow, reduced expenditures, improved enrollment, improved leadership teams, improved revenue, engaged effectively and responsibly the Board of Trustees and even restructured the academic portfolio.”
One of the improvements that helped the school was reducing enrollment from over 4,000 students to just over 2,900.
“We had to reduce enrollment. I got here at probably during the university’s darkest times with all the bad press. We had exceeded our budget in enrollment. We cleared the students financially, which is why our cash flow is better than anticipated,” Chrite shared.
However, there still are challenges that threaten the university’s future.
“We still have our balance sheet, enrollment, debt and an aging infrastructure,’’ he added.